Wanaka LandSAR one stop shop

Central Otago Mirror - - NEWS - By MAR­JORIE COOK

The Wanaka LandSAR team needs about $30,000 a year ‘‘just to stand still’’, the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s fundraiser Phil Mel­chior said re­cently.

But stand­ing still is not re­ally some­thing Wanaka LandSAR does.

It has worked on at least 40 op­er­a­tions since June last year and usu­ally con­ducts be­tween 30 to 50 a year.

The Mt As­pir­ing Na­tional Park is on the doorstep. It’s an out­doors adventure mecca that’s claimed the lives of 47 peo­ple since 2002.

A re­cent open day at the new $400,000 pur­pose-built build­ing on Bal­lan­tyne Rd was the first chance for the public to see the in­ci­dent con­trol room and in­spect the gear used for ev­ery­thing from swift river res­cues to he­li­copter strop lifts.

Wanaka LandSAR chair­man Paul Mar­shall is a for­mer Dunedin-ite who has worked for much of his ca­reer in the po­lice force in Auck­land.

He moved back south a few years ago and is good mates with Wanaka’s po­lice search and res­cue co-or­di­na­tor Sergeant Aaron Ni­chol­son, who worked un­der Mar­shall in Auck­land a long time ago.

Mar­shall says Wanaka’s new build­ing is a ‘‘bench­mark’’ for a vol­un­teer or­gan­i­sa­tion and had amazed vis­i­tors.

‘‘But now we have run­ning costs that we’ve not had be­fore. The non-sexy stuff, rates, in­sur­ance, power . . . So we would love to talk to any­one who can help out,’’ he said.

One sug­ges­tion now be­ing ex­plored is a Friends of Wanaka LandSAR scheme. How­ever, Mar­shall be­lieves it is un­likely the group will ever be­come a Gov­ern­ment-funded team, sim­i­lar to one at Ao­raki-Mt Cook.

Queen­stown’s alpine cliff res­cue team is presently lob­by­ing along those lines but Mar­shall is prag­matic.

‘‘Who are you go­ing to ring when your hus­band is over­due? The po­lice. No-one ever rings LandSAR,’’ he said.

There was no deny­ing the re­sources the po­lice brought to LandSAR groups, such as com­puter tech­nol­ogy, con­tacts and ad­min­is­tra­tion skills for things like coro­nial en­quiries. The po­lice also funded things like he­li­copters and some fuel ex­penses.

Ao­raki-Mt Cook, with its ex­tremely tech­ni­cal ter­rain, is a spe­cial case, he says.

‘‘Mt Cook, clearly there is no ques­tion they need a full­time hard core group. I know Queen­stown has been talk­ing about that for a long time. It would be nice for Wanaka too.

‘‘But I would ar­gue you would only need to have one full-timer in Wanaka and Queen­stown. Even then, fund­ing would be an is­sue,’’ he said.

Nev­er­the­less, Wanaka’s out­fit is pro­fes­sional, in skills, train­ing, at­ti­tude and equip­ment. Many vol­un­teers work as full­time river or moun­tain guides, while oth­ers are ex­pe­ri­enced recre­ation­al­ists work­ing in other in­dus­tries.

Sev­eral are ‘‘phec-trained’’ – mean­ing they can of­fer pre­hos­pi­tal emer­gency care in the field.

The gear room – and be­fore we con­tinue much fur­ther, Mar­shall stresses it is alarmed – is full. First aid gear and ropes are packed into dry bags, ready to go. ‘‘Rat packs’’ of dried food can also be shoved straight into bags, along with drink bot­tles and cook­ers.

There are full dry suits, pants, ther­mal tops, rain coats, gaters, gloves, hel­mets, shov­els, ice axes, cram­pons, back packs, fire ex­tin­guish­ers, bea­cons. And there are lots of ra­dios, a spare field re­peater (a per­ma­nent re­peater is on a mast on Lit­tle Mt Maude) and even aWan­da­trak re­ceiver.

This last piece of equip­ment is new and used to search for a per­son wear­ing a spe­cial watch or pen­dant. Mar­shall ex­plains that per­son might be autis­tic or suf­fer­ing from a de­men­tia-re­lated con­di­tion.

‘‘I can see it be­ing used more of­ten here. There’s one per­son in Wanaka who has one al­ready. We are very lucky to have it,’’ Mar­shall said.

Just off the gear room is a small kitchen, sport­ing an eight burner bar­be­cue. There is also a shower and toi­let.

Mar­shall says the whole room has been built around the con­cept searchers don’t have to go home and find their own gear.

As soon as they are paged they come to the build­ing for a brief­ing, get changed, grab gear and go.

Mar­shall loves that the team is to­tally self-suf­fi­cient.

‘‘When the end of the world be­gins, I am­com­ing here. There could be stand­ing room only, but I will be here.’’

The build­ing’s sec­ond room is ded­i­cated to in­ci­dent con­trol and here vol­un­teer Jean Ken­ney can of­ten be found. Ken­ney’s usual job is to keep tabs on field teams, take mes­sages and make notes in the log.

There is one cen­tral large ta­ble with eight chairs around it, three booths for pri­vate tele­phone calls and a sep­a­rate desk where the ra­dio op­er­a­tor sits.

Mar­shall jokes he is old school and prefers to use pa­per while Ken­ney types ev­ery­thing straight into a lap top.

‘‘But the good thing is, we can run ev­ery­thing from a piece of pa­per, if for ex­am­ple we are in a shed in the mid­dle of nowhere,’’ Ken­ney said.

Plan­ning is done by the co­or­di­na­tor, usu­ally Ni­chol­son, who records in­for­ma­tion and makes notes across five large white­boards. A ‘‘Two Touch’’ screen and Ep­son pro­jec­tor is used to dis­play maps and he­li­copters are tracked on three large tele­vi­sion screens, us­ing the Trac­plus sys­tem. Be­cause of the moun­tain­ous ter­rain around Wanaka, 95 per cent of the team’s work re­lies on chop­pers.

As soon as the Wanaka team is mo­bilised – ei­ther by the po­lice or the Res­cue Co- or­di­na­tion Cen­tre of New Zealand in Welling­ton – the in­ci­dent man­age­ment team come to the build­ing to work out what type of re­sponse is needed.

Some­times just two or three peo­ple might be needed. But some­times, a res­cue – or mul­ti­ple res­cues at once – has re­quired re­sources from across the three field teams: wa­ter res­cue, alpine- cliff res­cue and sub-alpine.

No searchers go out the door un­til they’ve an OSH brief­ing on haz­ards, how to pre­vent more tragedies and what to do if Wanaka LandSAR has its own ac­ci­dent.

‘‘Touch wood,’’ Mar­shall says, pat­ting the crisp alpine ply lining of the in­ci­dent con­trol room ‘‘noone yet has got in­jured.’’

Wanaka LandSAR vol­un­teers Jean Ken­ney and Paul Mar­shall in­side the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s in­ci­dent con­trol room.

Im­por­tant com­mu­ni­ca­tions equip­ment.

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